Available online at www.sciencedirect.comScienceDirectSocial norms and social influenceRachel I McDonald and Christian S CrandallPsychology has a long history of demonstrating the power andreach of social norms; they can hardly be overestimated. Todemonstrate their enduring influence on a broad range of socialphenomena, we describe two fields where research continuesto highlight the power of social norms: prejudice and energyuse. The prejudices that people report map almost perfectlyonto what is socially appropriate, likewise, people adjust theirenergy use to be more in line with their neighbors. We reviewnew approaches examining the effects of norms stemmingfrom multiple groups, and utilizing normative referents to shiftbehaviors in social networks. Though the focus of less researchin recent years, our review highlights the fundamental influenceof social norms on social behavior.AddressDepartment of Psychology, University of Kansas, Lawrence, KS 66045,USACorresponding author: Crandall, Christian S (email@example.com)Current Opinion in Behavioral Sciences 2015, 3:147–151This review comes from a themed issue on Social behaviorEdited by Molly J Crockett and Amy CuddyFor a complete overview see the Issue and the EditorialAvailable online 21st April 2015and their imitation is not enough to implicate socialnorms. Imitation is common enough in many forms oflife — what creates the foundation for culture and societyis not the imitation, but the expectation of others for whenimitation is appropriate, and when it is not.A social norm is an expectation about appropriate behavior that occurs in a group context. Sherif and Sherif  saythat social norms are ‘formed in group situations andsubsequently serve as standards for the individual’s perception and judgment when he [sic] is not in the groupsituation. The individual’s major social attitudes areformed in relation to group norms (pp. 202–203).’ Socialnorms, or group norms, are ‘regularities in attitudes andbehavior that characterize a social group and differentiateit from other social groups’ [9 ] (p. 7).What do norms do?Norms not only detail what is appropriate behavior, butthese expectations in turn define what the group does,and who the group is. Identity is formed by group norms,and by conforming to them. Deviation from social normsleads first to communication designed to engender conformity [10 ], and if social expectations are not met and ifthe social norm is important, deviation leads to loss ofsocial status or exclusion [11 52-1546/# 2015 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.The most central, useful, powerful set of social psychological ideas is the triumvirate of imitation, conformity,and social norms. Social norms are the foundation ofculture, of language, of social interaction, cuisine, love,marriage, play, prejudice, economic exchange and trafficcontrol. The elements of this list are fundamental tohuman life; the list is endless.The human organism is built for social norms. Thefoundations of social norms in imitation and social learning are common to all primates , and are especiallydeveloped in humans [2 ]. Well-developed brain structures support awareness of others (e.g., facial recognition; mirror neurons ), and human language capacity are fundamental to social coordination.Like other primates, humans pay careful attention toothers , and they imitate what they see . Butknowledge of others’ actions (or beliefs, emotions, values)www.sciencedirect.comAre there different kinds of norms?Many psychologists have differentiated among norms andthe role they play in social influence. One durable distinction is between norms that simply describe whatpeople in a group do, and norms that describe what peoplein a group should do . Cialdini et al. [13 ] characterizedescriptive norms as ‘the norms of what is,’ a sort ofinformational summary of how a group behaves, andinjunctive norms as ‘the perception of what most peopleapprove or disapprove (or the norms of ought)’ [13 ](p. 203).Different kinds of norms are thought to determine different kinds of influence. Descriptive, informationalnorms lead to influence through education and conversion — the process of conforming to descriptive normshas been called ‘informational social influence,’ and theattitudes that form, or behavior that results from this kindof influence is seen as genuine and unstrained. Whennorms are about what a group considers appropriate,moral, or necessary — injunctive norms — the processof conforming has been called ‘normative group pressure,’and the attitudes that form, or behavior that results fromthis kind of influence is seen as managed, ambivalent, lessgenuine, and often conflicted [14 ].Current Opinion in Behavioral Sciences 2015, 3:147–151
148 Social behaviorRecent research provides compelling evidence for theexistence of distinct forms of normative influence. Jacobson et al. [15 ] demonstrated that injunctive norms areassociated with more interpersonally oriented self-awareness and greater conflict about conformity decisions.Their findings show that exhaustion or depletion leadsto decreased conformity to injunctive norm informationbut increased conformity to descriptive norms. Differentmotivations underlie conformity to descriptive and injunctive norms. In a similar vein, Melnyk and colleagues showed descriptive norms had greater influenceunder promotion than prevention focus, whereas injunctive norm influence was unaffected by regulatory focus;the psychological underpinnings of conformity differaccording to the type of normative information.mostly measures of the inability or unwillingness to adaptto social change (e.g., cognitive rigidity, low education,traditional religiosity, authoritarianism). They argue thatthe label ‘prejudice’ is based on changing social norms —a ‘prejudice’ is a negative attitude toward a group that ismoving toward greater acceptability (e.g., toward LGBTpeople), but not toward groups with normatively stablesocial rejection (e.g., toward child molesters) or groupswith stable and positive normative positions (e.g., towardWhite men or philanthropists). Crandall et al. [19 ]showed that adaptation to social norms leads to thesuppression of prejudice; as younger university studentscame to identify with their school and its norms, theyshowed growing internal motivation to suppress theirprejudices.Normative influence is fundamental and pervasive; a complete review of their reach — or the research — would beimpossible. To illustrate the importance of social norms, wenext examine some recent advances in social norm researchin two markedly different social domains: prejudice andenergy conservation. A review of these quite distinct issuesunderscores the breadth of influence of social norms onsocial life, cognition, and behavior (Figure 1).One extraordinary example of the role of group norms inprejudice is the work of Paluck [23 ], who used radio‘soap operas’ to reduce ethnic tensions among the Hutusand Tutsis in Rwanda. The soap operas modeled friendlyinteraction across ethnic lines; exposure to the descriptivenorms of the radio shows changed how listeners saw theircommunities, imitating the modeled behavior, includingan increased acceptance of intermarriage, more toleranceof dissent, and more empathy for genocide survivors andprisoners of the Rwandan genocide. These changes occurred in the absence of change in their own attitudestoward the other ethnic group.Prejudice: From the earliest research, social norms havebeen pointed to as a cause of prejudice, ‘about half of allprejudiced attitudes are based only on the need to conform’  (p. 286). The norms approach emerged as analternative to personality approaches , and researchshows very high levels of conformity to norms in theprejudice domain [19 ]. The presence of an audience (anormative cue) leads to more normative behavior (e.g.,suppressed discrimination [20 ]); this attentiveness tonorms develops around 8–10 years of age .There is reason to believe that a failure to adapt norms insociety causes prejudice. Crandall et al. [22 ] show that thefactors that contribute to the ‘prejudiced personality’ areEnergy use: Early models of energy use and pro-environmental behavior emphasized the importance of attitudesand knowledge  rather than social norms. More recently, social norms have become a primary focus of bothempirical investigations and interventions to reduce energy use. Schultz and colleagues [25 ] showed whenpeople were given feedback on their energy bills indicating that they were using less energy than their neighbors,their energy use increased. This is a paradoxical result fromdescriptive norm information; rather than embracing whatFigure 1Biological PreparednessEvolutionary history ofdevelopment in smallgroups Neuro-architecture forattention to otherhumans Imitation present ininfancy Reinforcement & LearningPeople actively learn normsDeviations from normativebehavior brings attention,punishment, ostracism Powerful cultural rewardsfor conformity Coordination gains fromconformity Conformity can occuroutside of awareness Norms Can ChangeBehavior change can occurfrom changes in normswithout changing individualbeliefsConflict between norms canboth motivate and stymiebehavioral engagementIndividuals sometimes rebelSocietal and cultural changerender norms impermanentCurrent Opinion in Behavioral SciencesThe biological basis, and psychological process of conformity to — and deviance from — social norms.Current Opinion in Behavioral Sciences 2015, 3:147–151www.sciencedirect.com
Social norms and social influence McDonald and Crandall 149was intended as positive feedback, normative informationled families to imitate their (underperforming) neighbors.By contrast, the provision of subtle injunctive norms (asmiley face for low energy use) eliminated the negativeeffects of descriptive information; descriptive and injunctive norms often have distinct psychological impacts.Research on energy use also suggests that normativeinfluence is generally not detected. Nolan and colleagues[26 ] showed that people saved the most energy if themessage they received appealed to them to ‘join yourneighbors’ in saving energy (implying a norm of energysaving among neighbors), in contrast to other messagesthat appealed to save the environment or save money.Although the join-your-neighbors message was most influential, when asked about how the messages had impacted their energy use, those who received thisnormative message rated it as the least influential. Socialnorms have powerful, and often unappreciated, influenceon everyday behavioral decisions; their operation canconfound intuition and common sense.Social norms reflect group standards; when a person is inmore than one group (e.g., family, friends, colleagues) andthe group standards do not align, there is normativeconflict. McDonald and colleagues [27 ,28 ] showed thatfor people already invested in environmental protection,conflict among the behavior of different groups of people(conflicting descriptive norms) was associated with anincreased sense that saving water or saving energy wereeffective behaviors, participants increased intentions andactual conservation behavior. For people not invested inenvironmental protection, conflicting norms were associated with decreased sense that pro-environmental actionswere effective, and decreased intentions to engage inbehaviors like conserving energy at home. Conflictingnorms can polarize people toward their attitudinal predispositions, due to the different attributions peoplemake about the utility of action when considering conflicting norms. When faced with conflicting norms peoplemay attribute reduced efficacy to individual actions, asothers are not acting. Conversely, for some the information that not all others are acting may highlight the criticalneed for them, personally, to act. When making normssalient in persuasive messages, highlighting discrepanciesbetween what different groups of people typically do forthe environment can stymie willingness to change amongfor those most needing to amend their behavior.Group identification is crucial in understanding theeffects of social norms [29 ]. Recent research examiningthe effects of social norms from an identity perspectivedemonstrates that the type, rather than just the degree, ofidentification with a group influences whether people willfollow a group norm of climate protective behavior, suchas conserving energy and eating a vegetarian diet [30 ].For people who felt their groups had climate-protectivewww.sciencedirect.comnorms, willingness to engage in climate protective actionscame from seeing the ingroup as important and satisfying,but not seeing ingroup members as similar to the self.Normative interventions are unlikely to be effectivemerely because they depicts a norm of similar others,but rather require that the group is seen as important tothe individual, and is satisfying social needs.Wide-ranging power of normsThough we have focussed on prejudice and energy use inthis brief review of recent advances in norms research,work highlighting the impact of social norms is abundantin many domains, such as economics , health , andgroup therapy . Social norms have also been the basisof a host of impactful behavior change interventions in arange of domains. For example, Paluck and Shepherd[34 ] identified ‘social referents’ in a public highschool — people who are widely known and served asinformal social leaders. These social referents weretrained by the researchers, and were used to change socialnorms and the acceptability of bullying in the schools.Students linked to the referents (people who came incontact with them, shared classes) became less tolerant ofbullying; they imitated the modeled behavior. But moreimportantly, teachers reported significantly less bullyingin classrooms with social referents, and bullying becameless frequent among students with greater ties to thesocial referents. By comparison, students with close tiesto a different group of social referents who were nottrained to reduce bullying showed no change over thecourse of the study.This review highlights the fundamental importance ofsocial norms for understanding and changing social behaviors from reducing prejudice to increasing energy conservation. From basic processes of social imitation tocomplex effects of multiple ingroup norms, social normsare a central defining construct in social psychology,across myriad domains. The widespread, impactful, persistent, and often undetected effects of social normsdemonstrate that they are fundamental to social behavior,and a necessary target of continuing research.Conflict of interest statementNothing declared.References and recommended readingPapers of particular interest, published within the period of review,have been highlighted as: of special interest of outstanding interest1.Smuts B, Cheney D, Seyfarth R, Wrangham R, Struhsaker T (Eds):Primate Societies. University of Chicago Press; 1987.2. Tomasello M: The ultra-social animal. Eur J Soc Psychol 2014, 44:187-194.This article reviews Tomasello’s research that compares the social andcognitive behavior of the great apes. He begins with the assumption that‘individuals cooperate with one another in order to better compete forCurrent Opinion in Behavioral Sciences 2015, 3:147–151
150 Social behaviorresources,’ and traces out these lines into human forms of sociality andtheir consequence for human thought and morality.3.Farah MJ, Rabinowitz C, Quinn GE, Liu GT: Early commitment ofneural substrates for face recognition. Cogn Neuropsychol2000, 17:117-123.4.Kohler E, Keysers C, Umilta MA, Fogassi L, Gallese V, Rizzolatti G:Hearing sounds, understanding actions: action representationin mirror neurons. Science 2002, 297:846-848.5.Hauser MD, Chomsky N, Fitch WT: The faculty of language: whatis it, who has it, and how did it evolve? Science 2002, 298:15691579.6.Langton SR, Watt RJ, Bruce V: Do the eyes have it? Cues to thedirection of social attention. Trends Cogn Sci 2000, 4:50-59.7.Bandura A, Ross D, Ross SA: Transmission of aggressionthrough imitation of aggressive models. J Abnorm Soc Psychol1961, 63:575.8.Sherif M, Sherif CW: Groups in Harmony and Tension; AnIntegration of Studies in Intergroup Relations. Harper; 1953.Hogg MA, Reid SA: Social identity, self-categorization, andthe communication of group norms. Commun Theory 2006,16:7-30.This article provides a good introduction the social identity approach togroup norms and social phenomena, and focuses in how it can be usefullyapplied to communication processes. The perception of norms, thecommunication and diffusion of norms within groups, and the roles ofleaders in normative communication are reviewed.9. 10. Festinger L: Informal social communication. Psychol Rev 1950, 57:271-282.This is the first classic statement of how social norms operate and theirconnection to communication, conformity, and social rejection. Theprecise and clear language, depth of analysis, and originality and breadthof the theorizing makes this one of social psychology’s most importanttheoretical papers ever written.11. Schachter S: Deviation, rejection, and communication. J Abnorm Soc Psychol 1951, 46:190-207.This paper is the classic demonstration that deviation from a group normleads first to communication aimed at creating conformity, and failingthat, deviation leads to social exclusion. This paper shows that importantsocial norms are more carefully policed than unimportant ones, and thatconformity and conversion are both rewarded with social approval.12. Deutsch M, Gerard HB: A study of normative and informationalsocial influences upon individual judgment. J Abnorm SocPsychol 1955, 51:629-636.13. Cialdini RB, Kallgren CA, Reno RR: A focus theory of normative conduct: a theoretical refinement and reevaluation of the role ofnorms in human behavior. Adv Exp Soc Psychol 1991, 24:201-234.This highly cited and influential paper brought the issue of norms to theforefront of North American social psychology. It develops of theory ofnormative focus, and highlights the difference between perceiving whatpeople do (descriptive norms) and what people approve of doing (injunctive norms).14. Kelman HC: Processes of opinion change. Publ Opin Quart 1961, 25:57-78.This classic paper differentiates among three processes of opinionchange due to social influence, compliance (based on anticipated socialapproval), identification (based on a relationship that decreases individualidentity), and internalization (when the change is consistent with theperson’s value system).15. Jacobson RP, Mortensen CR, Cialdini RB: Bodies obliged andunbound: differentiated response tendencies for injunctive and descriptive social norms. J Pers Soc Psychol 2011, 100:433-448.This article provides new evidence to support the notion that descriptiveand injunctive norms are not psychologically equivalent. The authorsdemonstrate that depletion differentially affects descriptive and injunctivenorms, when self-regulatory resources are scarce, people are less likelyto conform to injunctive ‘oughts’. In contrast, when depleted, people aremore likely to conform to descriptive norms of what others actually do.16. Melnyk V, van Herpen E, Fischer AR, van Trijp HC: Regulatory fiteffects for injunctive versus descriptive social norms:evidence from the promotion of sustainable products. MarketLett 2013, 24:191-203.Current Opinion in Behavioral Sciences 2015, 3:147–15117. Allport GW: The Nature of Prejudice. Addison-Wesley; 1954.18. Pettigrew TF: Normative theory in intergroup relations:explaining both harmony and conflict. Psychol Dev Soc 1991,3:3-16.19. Crandall CS, Eshleman A, O’Brien L: Social norms and the expression and suppression of prejudice: the struggle forinternalization. J Pers Soc Psychol 2002, 82:359-378.This article shows a very clos
marriage, control. play, prejudice, economic exchange and trafﬁc The elements of this list are fundamental to human life; the list is endless. The foundations human organism is built for social norms. The ofsocial normsin imitation and learn-ing are common to all primates , and are espe
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following definition of norms: we define social norms as people’s beliefs about what others do (descriptive norms) and/or approve of (injunctive norms), held in place, at least in part, by antici
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Social Norms Approach: A Health Promotion Strategy to Preventing Youth Risk Behaviors TIP SHEET Personal Responsibility Education Program Become familiar with a social norms approach. Find experts within your community (researchers, organizations, educators) or online resources that can help you understand the social norms approach.
the 4 QuestIoNs3 CoNteNts Introduction7 A framework for change 7 Social change is a process 7 We each have our role to play 7 Making it happen 8 the power of social norms 9 Social norms guide expected behaviour 9 A powerful tool for changing attitudes 9 Society and hearing 9 Social norms and hearing 9 the 4 Questions: What a social norm